River is a practised liar. Not for him a mere dog-ate-my-homework excuse. No, his schoolwork would first have to be taken up in a helicopter and then used to staunch the bleeding of a Doberman bite. The Liar’s Handbook by Keren David (Barrington Stoke Teen, 6.99) is River’s record of his investigations into other, more serious lies. He believes his mothers boyfriend is a con man and mystery surrounds his real father’s disappearance. River’s cheeky, feisty voice is appealing and approachable and the book is designed to be super-readable by teens who find books challenging. Intriguingly shaped like a passport (central to the plot), The Liar’s Handbook packs more twists, thrills and topical discussion points into its 125 pages than many full-length novels.
It is a good year for YA thrillers. On the spring must-read list are Elizabeth Wein’s Agatha Christie-like The Pearl Thief and Penny Joelson’s I Have No Secrets, in which a teenager with severe cerebral palsy becomes involved with a murder case. Out now is HEAR, by Robin Epstein (Soho Press, £8.95), in which rich kid Kass joins a summer study group at Henley University, and discovers her class are ESP guinea pigs — and one of them is doomed. Good edge-of-seat stuff, bizarrely based on a real project at Princeton.
Two books of UK note mentioned in the Publishers Weekly roundup…
For ALL the highlighted books follow the link at the bottom of the post:
The Door That Led to Where by Sally Gardner. Delacorte, $17.99; ISBN 978-0-399-54997-7. This YA thriller blends time travel, intrigue, and social commentary when a teen discovers a portal to the 1830s and encounters a murderous plot.
Poles Apart by Jeanne Willis, illus. by Jarvis. Nosy Crow, $15.99; ISBN 978-0-7636-8944-5. In this picture book, a family of penguins get lost on their way to a picnic. Drifting along on an iceberg, they reach the North Pole, where polar bear wearing a bowler hat offers to lead them home
Saturday’s roundup by Imogen Russell Williams included a recmmendation for Laurence Anholt’s YA novel, The Hypnotist
Picture-book stalwart Laurence Anholt takes to YA like a duck to water with The Hypnotist (Random House). In America’s deep south of the 1960s, orphan Pip is hired as a farmhand by Mr Zachery. Pip is black, his employers are white – and the Ku Klux Klan are out in force. Only with the help of their neighbour Jack, a neurology professor and powerful hypnotist, can Pip and his friend Hannah hope to escape. Full of suspense and heartbreak, this is a powerful account of survival amid irrational, omnipresent hatred.
Just in case you missed this new weekly treat…
This biography is particularly revealing about Potter’s relationship with the family of her publisher, F Warne & Co. You could blink and miss the timid romance that blossomed between Potter and Norman Warne. His sudden death in 1905 was the catalyst for Potter’s first great act of independence — the purchase of Hill Top Farm in Lancashire. By the end of her long life (she died in 1943), the profits from all those rabbits and mice had been spent on nearly 4,000 acres of unspoilt countryside, which she left to the earliest incarnation of the National Trust.
The picture on the cover shows Potter in her final incarnation — the plump, white-haired sheep farmer, comfortably married to the local solicitor. Dennison’s clever, searching account of her life shows the incredible fight she had to make herself into the kind of woman she wanted to be.
Over the Hills and Far Away: The Life of Beatrix Potter by Matthew Dennison, Head of Zeus, 262pp, £18.99
There May Be a Castle by Piers Torday reviewed by Tony Bradman
The narrative moves fairly slowly, and I was left with a sense that it doesn’t have quite enough plot for its length. But that’s offset by the fizz and crackle of the dialogue, the menace of the darker scenes, the depth of insight into the human condition and the sheer originality of the whole. Piers Torday continues to demonstrate that he is one of the best writers for children working today.
A new Sunday Times video series starts today. Every week, on our website and here on the tablet edition, our highly regarded children’s book editor, Nicolette Jones, will be bringing you up to date on all that is new for younger readers in a series of short, informative films.
She begins with a look at the explosion in outstanding illustrated non-fiction for young readers. Future videos will feature interviews with authors such as David Baddiel and Philip Reeve, Jones’s selection of favourite poetry books for children, and a fun look at what to buy for Halloween.
THE HYPNOTIST by Laurence Anholt
One of the best YA books of 2015 was My Name’s Not Friday by Jon Walter, a historical novel set in nineteenth century America.
This highly impressive first novel by Laurence Anholt – known until now primarily for the picture books he produces both independently and with his wife Catherine (who contributes the chapter-head illustrations to this book) – is also a historical novel set in America. But some 100 years later – in the summer of 1963 to be precise. This too will most certainly be one of the best children’s / YA novels of its year.
I suppose I ought to declare that I have always admired Laurence. Some years ago I spent a happy day in his and Catherine’s company soon after they had opened a bookshop in Lyme Regis. He is someone I always speak with at bookish gatherings. But people who know me will be aware that close association or even friendship do not guarantee a gushing review.
Nor would I simply have ignored the book if it was no good. I have long advocated that bad children’s books deserve just the sort of treatment that bad films receive.
What a fine film this book would make – leaving, as it does, such a vivid visual imprint in the mind long after the final page has been turned.
The hypnotist of the title is a 32-year-old Irish academic called Jack who is working at a small university in the south of America. His role there is Head of Neurological Research, with a specialism in hypnotherapy. At key points in the story Jack’s ability to hypnotise subjects proves crucial.
The novel is cleverly constructed, with Jack’s sections told in the first person so that we see the main participants – the black orphan Pip; the farmer Zachery who obtains the boy from an orphanage expressly to read to and nurse his very overweight wife; Lilybelle the very same bedridden wife; Hannah, a mute native American Indian girl who is a general help around the household; and lastly Erwin, the monster-sized brutish son of Zachery and Lilybelle, an early veteran of the Vietnam war, and a leading member of the local Ku Klux Klan – we see all these both from Jack’s perspective (watching them as he does from the yard outside his bungalow) and also from the perspective of the omniscient narrator, the other sections of the book being written in the third person.
This structure works supremely well. There are two additional elements. Interspersed throughout the novel, and with increasing regularity, come the inter-chapter words to songs which the silent Hannah sings/composes in her head. In this way her character finds voice. “I have no voice/like a dry river-bed/silence is my choice/but I sing in my head”. These songs have been cleverly written to be believably the creations of a young teenager. There is also the voice from another time, as Pip reads passages aloud to Lilybelle from Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.
All the characters are well-realised, but the two physically large ones especially so: Lilybellle’s soft sensuality and her appreciation of beauty through the artwork she creates contrasting with Erwin’s hard racist hatred (focused on Pip) and his licentious designs on Hannah, with whom Pip has fallen in love on first sight.
Every reader will be swept into this highly visual world and the drama that develops within it. For young adult readers the book also depicts a time and period which, though many decades in the past, still reverberates in news stories emanating from America today.
It will be extremely interesting to see what Anholt the novelist turns to next.
The Smell of Other People’s Houses by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock, reviewed by Linda Buckley-Archer
This is a captivating debut by an exciting new author whose native Alaska permeates every page. Its scale counterpoints the human stories. Here is a land where a road journey can take two weeks, where a tsunami can swallow whole fishing fleets, and where orcas work in packs to steal cod from fishing boats so that only the black lips remain hooked to the lines.
First Light: A Celebration of Alan Garner ed. Erica Wagner reviewed by Michael Newton
Few writers are likely to be celebrated by such a diverse crowd as are gathered here in Wagner’s book. Other fiction writers appear – Margaret Atwood, Ali Smith, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman and Garner’s daughter, Elizabeth – but also Ronald Hutton, the historian of witchcraft, along with a clutch of storytellers, an excavation of archaeologists, a schoolmaster, a former archbishop of Canterbury and an astronomer. The range of those gathered here is testament to the breadth of Garner’s writings, the way they have syncretically compressed truths, merging, as few others have, a scientific and a mythopoeic understanding of human nature.
Between the summer of 1934 and the spring of 1935, Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper and Garner were born, three writers who were children during the war and then, in the 60s and 70s, would be at the heart of a golden age of children’s literature.